Chicago Blackhawks 2017-18 Season Autopsy

Joel Quenneville

The Chicago Blackhawks season ended barely a week ago. It was another early disappointing end to a season for the team and their loyal fans. This time around there was not a loss in the first round of the playoffs like the last two post-seasons. This time the hopes for a playoff berth disappeared well before March. The wheels on the Blackhawks team bus started coming off after the injury to goaltender Corey Crawford in December.

Chicago Blackhawks 2017-18 Season Goes Down

There are many things to discuss on what happened to the Blackhawks season. By far the biggest reason the Blackhawks season ended in failure is the loss of Corey Crawford. He went out back in December with an injury that is still unknown. The mystery surrounding Crawford’s injury has been a strange one for the fans to digest. There’s been talk and speculation all along about the type of injury involved. Hockey icon Scotty Bowman let out during an interview with Sportsnet 590 The Fan that Crawford was suffering from post-concussion syndrome, not vertigo.

Cloudy Future In Net

If Crawford is still suffering from post-concussion syndrome, that creates a huge question mark at the goaltender position for the Blackhawks next season. The fact that Crawford never returned to practice since his December injury is a bad sign. The team says he’ll be ready for training camp, but can he return to the elite level of goaltending he was playing before the injury? For more on these questions, check out this from Charlie Roumeliotis from NBC Sport Chicago: 

“Crawford was 16-9-2 with a .929 save percentage in 28 appearances before going down. Jean-Francois Berube, Anton Forsberg, Jeff Glass, and Collin Delia combined to go 17-30-8 with a .902 save percentage in Crawford’s absence. The drop-off was noticeable, especially when it came to quality scoring chances allowed.”

“Since 2012-13, Crawford has the third-best high-danger save percentage (81.48) at 5-on-5 among goaltenders who have appeared in at least 250 games over that span, according to Only Sergei Bobrovsky (83.18) and Carey Price (82.63) are above him.”

“That’s great company.”

The fact is that Crawford needs to return and be playing at an elite level if the Blackhawks are to rebound after this past miserable season. His stellar play covered up for many of defensive lapses in front of him by a defence corps that was not making things easy on the goalies.

The Ex-Factor

The next biggest reason the Blackhawks season tanked was the losses they suffered through trades, injuries, and the expansion draft. The list of players includes Marian Hossa, Artemi Panarin, Marcus Kruger, Trevor van Riemsdyk, and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. These five contributed immensely to the success of the Blackhawks. Hossa was one of the best two-way players in the game before he went on long-term injured reserve. Hjalmarsson was a fixture on the Blackhawks blue-line, playing mega-minutes against the opponents best players every night. Losing Panarin in a trade to Columbus was a big blow to the offence which never recovered. Kruger and van Riemsdyk were serviceable role players that were also not easily replaceable.

The Replacements

General manager Stan Bowman went into the off-season facing another salary cap crisis. He was faced with losing several key players as described above. With trades and free agent signings, he brought in ex-Blackhawks Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad, along with Tommy Wingels, Lance Bouma, and Connor Murphy. The Blackhawks also had an infusion of youth added to the roster when rookie sensation Alex DeBrincat made the team’s opening night lineup. Of this group of players, only DeBrincat was a consistent contributor to the team. He ended up leading the team in goals with 28 this year. Bowman’s upcoming roster moves for next season will hopefully do better than last year.

Defense Corps Crisis

The defence corps for the Blackhawks this past season had a lot of inexperience. Besides Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, the rest of the defensemen were very raw. Unfortunately for the Blackhawk goaltenders, this inexperience made most of their games in the net a nightmare. The defensive-zone coverage and breakouts were terrible and left the goalies facing way too many easy tap-ins or one-timers.

Stan Bowman has six defensemen set and signed for next season. There are many questioning whether these six will be able to gel into a solid defence corps by game one. Bowman may need to sign a free agent defenseman in the off-season to improve the Blackhawks chances to succeed.

Not So Special Teams

One area that is a sore point for many of the Blackhawk faithful is the power play and penalty killing units. The Blackhawks were in the top five in the NHL in penalty killing in early December. By the end of the season, they were 11th worst at a 79.1% effective rate. What was called a “power play” was a disappointment all season. Sadly they ended up tied for third worst in the NHL at the end of the season. The talent level on the Blackhawks is too good to be this bad. Next season they will have to improve both of these areas in order to compete.

Nowhere To Go But Up

As bad as last season was, things are not completely bleak for the storied franchise. The Blackhawks have several stars in the making and prospects on the way from their AHL team and the upcoming NHL Draft. Rookie phenom Alex DeBrincat had a big first season and should continue to improve. Nick Schmaltz and Vinnie Hinostroza showed huge improvement and will be expected to contribute even more next season. Prospects Dylan Sikura and Victor Ejdsell got a taste of the big show at the end of the season and showed they will push for an opening night roster spot.

The upcoming NHL Draft will be another area where the team could improve. They sit in a good position with several picks that may provide roster help sooner than later. We’ll see how the draft lottery works out for the Blackhawks who currently have the seventh pick. Can they beat the odds and grab the number one spot? Many in Chicago are sure hoping so.